Unapologetically ME

I am ready to walk away from the wreckage that has suffocated and trapped me, like a caged songbird, unable to sing and soar, for so long.

I’m tired of being unhappy and devalued. Living in the shadows of a sociopath that has so much power and influence, my voice has often been muted. My actions are continually misunderstood and I’ve endured years of scapegoating, gaslighting, and character smearing. All because some are unwilling to acknowledge the truth and want to continue living in denial and dysfunction. I grow weary of defending what I know to be true and am often alienated because I confront behavior that I know to be reckless and dangerous, even. Admittedly, I’ve sometimes lost my dignity standing up for those who are truly vulnerable in the family system. Nothing feels worse, to me, than watching people you love who are drowning and having members of your family block you from being able to help them. The helplessness I have felt lead to my own hardening and rage.

Today is a new day. I forgive those who have hurt me and my loved ones and I release any hold they ever had on me. I forgive myself for begging for their love, attention, and time; living in an undignified position for so long.

Healing is not a linear process and I will not be surprised if I continue to slip every now and again. But, I do feel there has been change and growth. My ability to recognize and confront gaslighting when it occurs so that it doesn’t keep me “spinning”, has greatly improved. I also am beginning to “rage” less and express my anger more appropriately. For someone who was not allowed to express anger growing up, these steps are progress for me. As a child, and even well into my adult years, I feared expressing anger and repressed it. I felt and believed that “bucking the system” and expressing anger would place my life at risk. And so, I was denied the expression of it. When I finally began to use my voice, I often raged. There were times I even “blacked out” briefly when raging, not knowing how I got from point A to point B. I hold a lot of anger which is often sadness under the surface. I have an immense amount of grieving to do for what I’ve lost in this lifetime. But, for now…. one day at a time, right? And, I am experiencing many more moments of joy now that I have released some of the pain that I was carrying for so long.

I do have many regrets. I wish I had departed years earlier. I wish I had not tried so hard. I wish I had not moved my life, losing money and resources, to try and support relationships and help loved ones who did not value me. I regret the times I lashed out in anger, but more so regret the effort and energy I expended trying to help those struggling that went unnoticed and unappreciated. It’s not that I needed that much from them, but I sacrificed a lot for so little. And ultimately, all I truly wanted was connection in the end.

There are things I do not regret saying or doing.

I will never regret the times I stood up for the vulnerable children and the disabled adults living in the home. I won’t regret the lessons I’ve learned. I’ve learned to value and love myself and have gained a greater appreciation for my capacity to love and to forgive.

I will never regret confronting the dishonesty, gaslighting, emotional abuse, discarding, and stonewalling that I endured. I realize now that I stayed too long and continued to “rage”. I even grew embittered and jaded for awhile. At times, I admit that I became abusive myself. I do not excuse or justify my own mistakes or abuse. I take full accountability for them and wish I would have done better. I was learning how to let go while still holding on and fighting for those I loved. I knew I was losing the fight as nothing changed in the end. I know it got messy and even ugly, at times. I wish I could have just let people go without raging. Still, I do not regret the times I was able to retain my dignity and stand up for myself.

I am still not the greatest at getting my needs met in relationships. I have always gravitated towards those that use me or who are unhealthy. I can see now looking back how sick I was and that much of how I coped was ineffective. That being said, so many of my relationships have been hopeless. I was drawn to those unwilling to connect and I can see this more than likely developed from a lifetime of always longing, but never being satiated, full, or feeling safe when it came to intimacy and connection. I spent my entire life desiring visibility and connection, only to continue demanding it from those who were unwilling to provide it in the way I needed. There were always excuses and justifications as to why connection wasn’t realized. Often, I was blamed for wanting too much. This caused a lot of self loathing, anxiety, and insecurity. It took time for me to believe that I actually wasn’t getting my needs met and it wasn’t my fault. I was not asking for too much, nor was I ever “too much”. It took years of analyzing the behavior of my loved ones to garner the proof I needed to finally understand that those around me were truly struggling and sick in their own way. I spent years trying to convince them to get help to no avail.

The most difficult lesson in all of this was realizing that I had to let go of the dream of ever having a family that was close-knit. I don’t feel a part of my family. They don’t know who I am anymore and they often deny my pain and struggle related to the dysfunction, neglect, and abuse. It has become too hard for our two very different perceptions of the past and present to sit in the same space. I have tried for too many years and I am exhausted, sad, and even in chronic pain from the continual conflict and grief. I know what I have to do and I am taking the steps to do it.

I honestly think I am at the apex of acceptance. I can see looking back that I was unwilling to fully accept the reality that I wasn’t going to have what I wanted in this lifetime.

I wanted a close-knit family.

Because, I was unable to have children, I wanted to be a part of my sister’s grandchildren’s lives.

I wanted my nieces and nephews to heal from their upbringing and be healthy.

I wanted my marriage to work out. When it didn’t, I wanted my second significant relationship to work out.

I wanted to completely recover from the mental health struggles I live with, and instead, I now have additional diagnoses and am living on disability.

I wanted to date again and find true love. I simply want to love someone and be loved in return.

I wanted to have success in my career. I became to sick a few years ago and had to get onto disability so that I could take the time to recover as well as have a continuity of care. I am still struggling to get all my medical needs met (particularly with the pandemic).

I wanted to have a home one day and financial stability. This looks unlikely, but who knows?

And so, some of the above may not ever be realized. I am determined to start small.

Forgive myself. Forgive others.

Live in the present.

Enjoy what simple pleasures the day offers.

Stretch and sing more.

Do more of what makes me happy and joyful.

Set realistic goals and celebrate achieving them.

I am no longer in a race against others, nor will I compare myself to their successes or struggles.

I am me. I am ok. I am enough. And, most importantly, I am healing.

It is hard work. It is a process. And, the journey along the way is more precious and profound than any destination point a long the way.

I’ll be posting from time to time these moments of JOY. That is what I want my focus to be on in the end.

I accept what I have lost, but will do my best to no longer dwell on it, losing more precious time.

The following are pics from a little trip I took to Boulder City, NV and Hoover Dam. This area, along with a few others, are places I am considering moving to in time. Life is taking another turn. This time, I want my eyes to be wide open and my heart less heavy!

Thanks for reading!

Our Time: Enjoying the Incredible Space we Share Together

With the use Storyblocks.com for video clips and music, I have adapted an earlier post of mine to include a short video, using my voice as the narrator. Original post was written on May 26, 2019 and is copied below. I hope you enjoy!

This is Our time: Fast, Fleeting, and magnificent

This is our time. It will be fast and fleeting, yet magical and magnificent. We will always be moving about, passing by one another, while we occupy the greater space that holds us here with gravity. We were thrust here and pushed into the brightness, piercing the new air with the cry of a new born baby. Soon after, the process of imprinting began as the multiple layers of “our time” carved out an identity, giving our form meaning and definition. Unable to escape “our time”, we have moved through it, often embracing it as we stumble through life with discovery and delight.

This is our time. In this time of technology, information is shared instantly and in exponential quantities. Unlike in the past, we have a greater ability to connect with one another, and yet, this saturation and quality of connection is often times eroding relationships, leaving us feeling alienated and alone. Many of us living right now remember life without the use of a computer or cell phone. We reminisce of a life that was not digitized. Polaroid cameras, rotary phones, typewriters, 8 tracks, etc. are all things of the past, but still are very much alive in our collective memory. If were to take a snapshot of those living right now, some still with us can remember a time when they would gather around the radio in the evening for entertainment. Others will share they have never known life without the existence of a smart phone. In this same beautiful space, we have a young child singing “baby shark” while sitting on the lap of her great Grandfather who fought in WWII. And in this slice of life, we have a time that we can call “our own”. You and I are here, together, muddling through this thing called life.

In this time that is ours, we are alive and active, making history while altering the planet as we know it. Some of us will live quiet lives that may seem to go unnoticed. Others of us may influence our communities and impact the lives of those around us. And still yet, there will be the trailblazers whose existence shapes the zeitgeist of “our time”. Even so, as sure as our world turns and the sun rises and sets, it is “our time” to be alive, to breathe, to learn, and to love. And there is no other time for us, but right now, which is pregnant with possibility.

This is truly our time. As we dwell together under the starry skies, we’ll indulge in what the planet has to offer us in the way of natural wonders, culinary endeavors, and cultural practices. Many of us will venture outside of our comfort zones to explore lands that are foreign to us. In our limited time here together, we might sometimes take for granted the extensive and affordable ways in which we can travel. Some of us will travel extensively for work and/or pleasure and our appreciation for diversity among landscapes, culture, and people will grow, leading to a very rich life no matter our monetary worth.

During this time together on earth, we’ll experience heartache and disappointment. We will all start at different places with different experiences as well as different abilities and strengths. We may get swept up in activities or with people that take us away from ourselves, becoming lost. Some who lose their way will resurface after a steady climb into awareness, self forgiveness, and self love. There will be birthdays, marriages, births, and deaths. And during these times we will know joy, elation, contentment, pain, and possibly even suffering. We will, at times, feel alone and overwhelmed. We may fear death and getting older. And yet, in this time that we are here together, there will be times that we feel truly alive. In this space, when you and I are sharing the same air and earth, it will be our energy and endeavors that define “our time”. I’d like to think that in my lifetime people will turn towards one another with acknowledgement that we, “humanity”, are nothing short of amazing, possessing the potential to connect in endless ways. I believe this is already occurring in less organized ways on various social media sites, but feel we are really just now embarking on this journey of increased awareness and connection.

The desire of humanity to connect is what is fueling so much of the development of technology. Interestingly enough, it has opened up a window for many to have a glimpse of the world, exposing people to different cultures and ideas. This can only bring us closer, providing people with the knowledge to break barriers and facilitate not only tolerance, but concern and caring. This level of exposure to one another and to other cultures around our world is defining us. It may be the perfect tool in time to harness the collective energy to care for our planet and the creatures that inhabit it.

This is OUR TIME! It’s going to go fast, I’m afraid. I’m nearly 47 and I’ll soon be sliding into my fifties like a baseball players slides into home base. I’ve been living it hard, making mistakes, and often becoming distracted. I feel like I’ve turned around once and here I am, older, with some back problems and less energetic than I used to be. I’ve lost loved ones, fallen in love a few times and have went through the painful process of letting go. I’ve turned inward, at times, in depression and tried to ignore the brutality of the world, sheltering myself from a few storms in my life. But, I’m still here, along with you and so many others and this is it!!

We have absolutely no choice in how we entered the world and we will not have a choice in how we leave it. Some do take their own lives, but it is my belief that to do so is part of an illness, not a choice. So, while we are here breathing, living, and loving, take time to feel the amazing energy and pulse that is US! It truly is OUR TIME and I hope one day before it is the end, I see you in passing, strolling about, tilting your head back in laughter, at your friend beside you. Maybe you are in that group posing in front of some national monument, trying to get the perfect selfie. Or could that be you, a child jumping in the waves with delight? Or the older couple, holding hands on a park bench? I believe it is all of us. We are more alike than different, and it is OUR TIME. I hope you are enjoying it!

HAMLET

What piece of work is a man, how noble in reason,
how infinite in faculties, in form and moving,
how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension,
how like a god!

~William Shakespeare

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The Political Divide and How it is Impacting My Mental Health

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This past year has been truly difficult for me. Election years in America seem nearly intolerable anymore, with hate and division sewn on both sides that have often left me feeling hopeless and “small”. Many times I feel as though people are talking over one another, belittling others, and even engaging in bullying behavior. Admittedly, I have, at times, engaged in these fruitless pursuits. But, many more times than not, I end up deleting my post or comments entirely, especially if it gains traction. It just doesn’t seem to be worth the energy to argue as I often wind up feeling defeated and even downright depressed.

This last year has been particularly hard for me. The rhetoric, tension, and dysfunction displayed on social media, parallels the narcissistic abuse I have been disengaging from in my own life. As many others, my leisure options have been somewhat limited due to the restrictions placed on our city to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Boredom sets in and I become restless, seeking stimulation on-line. The division and animosity felt on both sides leads me to retreating again and again, with a greater commitment each time to not “engage” anymore. But, I would be amiss to not share some of the observations I’ve made and what I’ve learned by disengaging.

Ultimately, and even oddly, this year has mirrored so much of what is occurring in my own personal life. I was diagnosed a few years ago with PTSD and this year has triggered my trauma while at the same time, providing the space and time to address it. The year 2020 has seemingly pushed me to my breaking point and forced me to deal with some of the harder emotions I had tried in the past to “stuff” and ignore. It’s been more challenging to distract myself when I’ve spent more time alone than ever before. As challenging as it has been for me to maintain stability in my mental health, I feel I’ve grown immensely during this time and have actually relied even more so on different and new ways to cope.

Here are some of the ways the political division and the coronavirus pandemic have impacted my mental health and the ways in which I am coping.

  • Becoming more aware of how stress is impacting my physical and emotional health. This year has allowed me to practice the skill of being more mindful and present. As a result of many businesses being shuttered, and having “less on my plate”, I have been able to slow down a bit and take notice of how stress is impacting my body. Being on social media with others during a time of less distraction, has allowed me to understand how unresolved conflict and the outward expression of it, causes an exacerbation of my symptoms of depression and anxiety. I began making the connection between the unhealthy relationships in my life and the impact they were having on my health. This has taught me to disengage more, not just on-line, but also with those in my life who are unhealthy for me.
  • Acknowledging when to disengage and practice self care. This last year has been difficult to witness. I can remember watching the first presidential debate and cringing. I couldn’t bring myself to actually “look” at the TV. The constant interruptions and “talking over one another” put me on edge and I found myself staring at the floor, almost feeling like I was the one being berated and criticized. I had to turn off the TV after a few minutes, because it was actually unsettling, and even triggering, to me in the end. Watching the debates kinda reminded me of the calm before the storm in my own life. The times I allowed too much from others, then later found myself swept up in emotion, raging. The constant on-line bickering also felt like a personal assault to me. I realized how toxic the on-line environment was and became more aware of certain negative patterns in my own life. This lead me to the process of disengaging and spending more time practicing self-care. This has allowed me to more quickly recognize my triggers and disengage earlier.
  • Acknowledging when relationships are truly hopeless, letting go, and redirecting my time and energy to worthwhile pursuits. The political divide, I feel, has mirrored, in ways, my own personal struggled with those in my life who often are not interested in compromise, yet still hold some level of power or influence in the lives of those I love. As a person who lives on disability insurance, I do not hold a lot of power in society, and voices like mine can often easily be muted or “drowned out”. The limited scope of power, both in my personal life and politically, has taught me to set stronger boundaries in order to protect and preserve my energy so that I can make a difference where I realistically can. Setting boundaries with myself and others and engaging in self-care, and not feeling guilty for doing so, has been a lesson I have learned during this time. Certain relationships are hopeless. Much like the futile attempts on-line to change someone’s political opinion, I have learned to just “let go” instead.

Election years are tough anymore. And this past one, coupled with a global pandemic, provided the space, time, and conflict to usher in a few “life lessons”. Even though it has been tough, I am grateful for what I have learned. I spent more time getting to know myself and was able to grow emotionally and spiritually during a time of turmoil. Life can be difficult and even painful, at times. With 2020 behind me, I feel like I have a few more tools in my toolbox as far as knowing how to disengage, set better boundaries for myself, and invest in endeavors that provide personal growth and contentment.

What lessons did 2020 teach you? Did you find yourself able to make some changes in your life that helped you, big or small? I definitely feel the the past year was a turning point. I’ve turned more towards myself and this has helped me to manage and cope with the symptoms of my PTSD. Here’s to hoping this year brings even more light and and self-love to everyone’s journey of healing!

A Sibling’s Open Letter to the Deadly Disease of Addiction

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The last few years have been particularly difficult for me. I’ve had to disengage from my family due to their struggle with severe and persistent addiction. My sister and all of her adult children have struggled for more than a decade with substance abuse issues, causing severely strained relationships, disability, and even the recent loss of custody of my two great nephews. 

I wrote the letter below to help me process the pain of essentially losing my family to the very serious and deadly disease of addiction. Two of my family members are now disabled with severe and persistent mental illness due to their use of methamphetamines. None of my nieces and nephews are employed, nor did any of them receive their high school diplomas. My mother and I are no longer in communication because her denial and enabling over the years has fractured our relationship. I’ve had to disengage and take a break so that I can heal and begin to recover from the loss. 

Addiction truly is a family disease and it affects everyone in the family. I have found Nar-Anon to be a valuable resource for support and information for family members struggling to cope and heal with the presence of addiction in the family. Nar-Anon, adapted from Narcotics Anonymous, is a worldwide group whose members are family and friends who are concerned about a loved one’s struggle with substance abuse. Here is their website: https://www.nar-anon.org.   

Here is my letter to this deadly disease.

Dear Addiction

I hate you. 

I hate what you have done to those I love. You’ve taken their lives and ruthlessly thrown them into the fire, watching them burn, with indifference. You truly are the living embodiment of hell on earth.

Addiction, I hate you.

I loathe the day you waltzed in promising my sister that you would make things so much better for her. Rolling out the red carpet, giving her the royal treatment, and romancing her so she would get hooked. All the lies you fed her, knowing that when it was all said and done, another soul would be stolen and another victim, left, scrambling, sweating, sick on the floor, begging for more. All the times you gave her and others the false impression that they could easily let go of you, when and if they desired, knowing that your physical dependence would imprison & enslave them.

Addiction, I hate you.  

I hate the power you hold over those I love, and what they gave up when you finally secured a place in their soul. They gave up their identity and called themselves “addicts”, enslaving themselves to a lifetime of using and shame. You don’t deserve those victimized by you. You’re not only taking lives, you’re robbing millions of their potential and peace. Their waking hours are spent fixated on you, and how to remain in your “good graces”.  Some will steal, lie, and destroy relationships to maintain your presence in their lives.

Addiction, I hate you.  

I hate what you do to families, ripping them apart. I hate that your destruction causes bewilderment and confusion, leaving people uncertain whether to confront or enable. Often, children, affected by your disease, will defend you and may even grow up somewhat complacent and numb to the chaos you have created. You sit back waiting, chomping at the bits to claim another victim. Children, raised in an environment where you reign, are particularly vulnerable. 

Addiction, I hate you.

You tell your victim lies, entrapping them in shame and self-loathing, many times causing them to discard their loved ones who confront their drug use. You mock those who are to trying to keep your victims safe. Those screaming in the distance are muted by the noise you cause, that continually deafens and disorients your victim. 

Addiction, I hate you.  

I hate you for destroying my family bonds. As the flames grew higher, and the devastation reached epic proportions, some of us screamed louder, while others have enabled more and shrunk back in denial. I’ve screamed so much that my voice has become hoarse, hitting a brick wall, reverberating around this dark chamber that has become all too familiar. I’ve been sent to the dungeon, cold and alone, by the loved ones who you have claimed as your victims. Nothing penetrates the walls you’ve built, keeping the victim in a vicious cycle, enslaving them, encouraging them to justify their actions that serve you, and you alone. You’ll have your victim admit that they are powerless, but your allure will entice them to forever stand close to the fire. The fire is never entirely extinguished.  I have become disillusioned and have danced around the flames, sometimes raging, and other times desperately trying to reach you. And you discard me once again.  

Addiction, I hate you. 

Through the years of my experience knowing you, I have doubted my own reality. I have looked through the eyes of the victim and no longer know if it is you or my sister that I am staring at and this devastates me. Her adult kids have now all been touched by your fire and are struggling as we speak.

Addiction, I hate you.  

If one ever tries to cut ties with you, you hold on like a bitch with nails, clinging, taking the life out of them. You torture them with beatings and lashings, as they hurl you from their body, clinging to the toilet, and sinking on the floor, sweating. “I’ll teach you never to leave me!” You snarl and spit in their face, sometimes hijacking their minds with hallucinations and delusional thinking.  

No, it’s hell to leave you.  

You do not want to relinquish your control.

Addiction, I hate you.  

And when the dust settles, there is stillness. And then, there is the dealing with the aftermath while the cravings for you are forever present, occupying a permanent space in the victim’s mind.    

Addiction, I hate you.  

And, if all of this is not enough, your victims wear the label of “addict”, having to rebuild, often ashamed and remorseful. There are some who have been sitting at your table for so long they have lost themselves. Your presence can cause changes to the brain that may lower empathy and create cognitive issues. I am perpetually oscillating between the extremes of trying to help and becoming angry and aggressively confronting . I am seen as harsh and cruel, when really I am sad and scared. I have become an indirect victim, my moods and perceptions often altered by this deadly, intoxicating dance. 

Addiction, I hate you.  

Because of you, I am letting go of my family. Not just my sister, and her family, but my mother as well. It’s getting too hard to keep trying, only to be devalued and discarded. The pain has become too intolerable for my mother. She compensates with enabling and denial which only serves to further isolate me, while those I love become increasingly more sick. I sometimes lose my dignity in anger and rage, saying things I know will only cause me more shame and sadness. I begin to wonder and fear if some victims ever reach full recovery from you. 

And, then, I hate on you some more. 

Addiction, I hate you. 

Your reign in my life is over. I have truly tried to save my sister and her kids from your very ugly, abusive ways, but it is up to them to ride this dangerous storm out and do what is necessary to seek help and change. I will remain hopeful that they one day they have the strength and perseverance to eradicate you from every inch of their lives. You have absolutely no place in mine. I will be more healthier in the end, letting go, healing, and remaining available, when and if any are ready to heal.

Goodbye, addiction.  

I’ve learned that those who leave you, must be the one to cut ties. No one can do it for them. I hope to one day stand on the other side of you, with my family, free from the pain and suffering you’ve created.

Addiction, I hate you.
Our story is complete.

Hearing I’m Sorry Isn’t Always a Reason to Stay

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Sometimes saying, “I am sorry” isn’t “good enough”. Especially, when those words have beed dropped so effortlessly from your tongue, with no context, nor an explanation as to why, and with no observable change in behavior that follows.

I grow weary of hearing, “I’m sorry”. I grow nauseated of being reminded how many times it’s been uttered from you.

There comes a time in life when you realize the one holding the key to the heavy shackles weighing you down is yourself. It then becomes, a conscious decision to unlock the shackles binding you and fling them to the ground, thus freeing yourself from the chains that have kept you in bondage for so long. For years, we may have not even known we possessed the key. And even after the discovery, it can be years after that until we are willing to let go of the comfort of the old patterns and beliefs that have captivated us for so long.

Once the shackles fall, with a loud thud on the ground below, there is more work to do. If we are not careful, we will get swept up in the layers of sadness, even despair, that is stagnating in the dense air surrounding us. We’ll find ourselves choking on it, biting back the tears, wishing we could of somehow managed to save and savor what we sacrificed years trying to obtain. No amount of effort would have saved what we lost. Often times, we discover it was never truly “ours” in the first place. Perhaps, what we so desperately desired was to commune with ourselves and to preserve the dignity that we lost when we weren’t yet ready “to let go”. The depth of what we sensed was missing in our lives is nearly equal to the space we need to fill completely with ourselves. This is where and how we turn the page.

And, at times, it feels like the heaviest and hardest page to turn. We agonize over the next chapter, with trepidation and uncertainty, fearing that what we accepted in the past must surely be so much larger and better than what could ever discover for ourselves in the future. Even when the times in our past were lonely or painful, it can be still difficult to “let go”. Looking back, there were surely times that were spent stuck, in limbo, grieving what was lost in the past and worrying about what may or may not transpire in the future.

Even so, in this space of “limbo”, we are learning. And we are, at times, becoming swept up again by the inaction of others, allowing their “story” to take precedent in our lives while we take a “back seat”. Maybe the larger fear is the responsibility gained when success is achieved. For some, maybe that prevents them from going forward. Have we become so used to “falling short” that the mere idea of success becomes paralyzing? Even so, there is something pushing us forward. Change happens. It is the one constant we can acknowledge. Nothing remains the same in the end. I’d like to embrace change fully as it’s overtly apparent to me at the moment that everything has drastically shifted. Not just in my personal life, but also on a global scale. And I would even say, on a spiritual level.

As of late, I have been “showing up” in my life, sometimes even fighting mad. I’m no longer willing to accept an apology that is not followed by action. I definitely will not entertain one when I have to continue to “ask for it”. My boundaries are becoming stronger and my tolerance for abuse in any form: gaslighting, shift-blaming, dishonestly, manipulation, discarding, etc. has reached its limit. ENOUGH. Even with members of my family, I have now “cut ties” and have “walked away”. This has been difficult. But, again, I had for years sacrificed so much of my time, energy, and space for people who gave little to nothing to me. To people who were complacent and remained silent, or even, at times, defended or protected those who were harming me and others who I love.

And so, I will “let go”. And I intend to keep walking. I remind myself, in leaving, that I have already proven in a past romantic relationship, when I felt I wasn’t strong enough to leave, that I am capable of doing so. That relationship has been over for 4 years. In fact, once the coronavirus is defeated, I feel ready to date again. I took the time to heal and am excited about the future.

It has taken me a few years “to turn the page” and believe my story as well as reclaim my dignity. I’ve stopped engaging in the fabricated world they create to justify their mistreatment of me. I actually sincerely feel pity and sorrow for those so lost and separated from themselves that they continually hurt others by denying intimacy and truth in their lives. The time I spent trying with them was fruitless in that the relationship was never repaired, but I did grow immensely from the experience.

Loving thyself is actually is being honest and real with oneself. There is no denial of one’s imperfections or mistakes. Self-loathing during difficult times when rejected or mistreated, is now being replaced with practicing self compassion and forgiveness. It is trying harder to set firm boundaries and acknowledging that this is “hard stuff” to learn so “late in life”. It is being kind and gentle with myself.

And so, the page turns. Not always with ease. Sometimes, with hot and salty tears, grieving what I feel should have been “mine”.

We all deserve love, protection, honesty, intimacy, human touch, compassion, laughter, joy, light-heartedness, to feel safe, etc. Sometimes, it becomes necessary to cultivate these things for yourself. Once that is accomplished, there is a deep sense of mastery in life whereby relapses, triggered by rejection or other incidents outside of our control, become easier to manage and the duration shorter. Life will still have its difficult days, but you’ll be less likely to be moved from “the center” that you cultivated over time that is “yours”.

I’m still active in this journey towards wholeness and healing. I still have both good and bad days. I feel I bounce back more quickly and am more “separate”, allowing for distance and space between myself and those who have harmed me. That space provides peace, and even, joy, at times.

I hope this New Year finds you focused on your well-being, safety, and healing. Much joy and light along your path. We are all just trying to find our way. We all hold a deep reservoir of love, peace, joy, and light within us. May all of these things grow within you this year. That is my hope for myself and you! Thanks for reading!

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Snowflakes and Forgiveness: Letting Go and Living after Trauma

The following video is one I created using an older blog post and stock images from Storyblocks.com. I am new to this process, but decided to go ahead and share. I am hoping to develop my skills in creating videos and then post them to YouTube, as well as my blog.

This post is about letting go and forgiving both the self and others after surviving trauma. I have lived through the childhood trauma of being molested at the tender age of 4 by a next-door neighbor. In my adult life, I have lived through two abusive relationships, one with someone I had planned to marry and another with my nuclear family. The video below takes a post that I wrote a few years back, and uses the imagery of a snowstorm as a metaphor of letting go and forgiving, thus becoming “lighter in life”. Snow always covers up the rougher edges of life and instills calm and peace. I hope you enjoy!

Letting Go of the Shame Caused by Stigma

Me and Gracie!

That’s me above, and my pup, Gracie.  This picture was taken nearly 5 years ago while I was still working.  I was living in Seattle, WA at the time, and working in a long term facility as a recreation therapist (CTRS).  And, trust me, even while donning a huge smile, I was severely anxious and struggling! 


Since then, I’ve been approved for SSDI and have been focusing on rebuilding my health, one day at a time. My  hope is to live gracefully with my illnesses of: Bipolar I, PTSD, ADHDOCD, and PMDD. I have learned to accept my illness and am acquiring new skills and approaches to cope more effectively.
 
The suffering I’ve endure related to my mental illness has been amplified by the stigma and the shame surrounding it.  It has taken me years to separate myself from the symptoms that my illness has caused and the stigma that is perpetuated by those who lack the awareness and sensitivity to understand my struggle. The shame I feel from having an illness has significantly decreased over time, as I have worked to cultivate acceptance and compassion for my struggle.
  
The “stigma and shame” surrounding the “suffering” can, at times, exacerbate the severity of my illness. It has taken years of healing to separate the “suffering” from the “stigma” and the “shame” that often accompanies mental illness. I share in the following paragraphs how the suffering, which is often biological for me, has been impacted by the stigma I’ve faced, which inadvertently causes shame. Being able to see these as independent from one another, has allowed me to move further along in my healing process. 
        
What do I mean by my “suffering”? 

My “suffering” is my life-long struggle with an illness that causes chemical changes in my brain that are often difficult for me to manage and control. I never chose to be mentally ill, not for a certain time period, or even for a day! In fact, my illness began when I was in the “prime” of my life! I was captain and MVP of the swim team, had a leading role in the school musical, and was well supported by my friends and church. Like many others who struggle, I was active and involved prior to the onset of my mental illness. My illness began around my sophomore year, and it crept along, gaining momentum, until one day it was painfully obvious to others that something was just “not right”.  In my case, my struggle presented itself as a combination of symptoms that included: obsessive & intrusive thoughts, delusions, anxietypanic attacksdepression, and disassociation. I was acutely aware that my thought processes were somewhat “off” and I decided, on my own, to seek treatment. It was unsettling to me at the time and caused me much distress.
  
I have often made the comparison that my “suffering” is much like having an onslaught of bad “side effects” to a prescribed medication, except that the symptoms are often more severe than that of side effects and the onset and duration of symptoms can be unpredictable and uncertain. For example, too much caffeine may cause some to experience symptoms comparable to mild mania in that they may be: edgy, anxious, irritable, energetic, even euphoric, etc.  Their mind might even race and they may feel overly optimistic about what they can accomplish.  Depression can feel somewhat like taking too much Benadryl for an allergy attack: one can feel foggy, exhausted, excessively sleepy, and withdrawn.  In drawing these comparisons, I am trying to help a person who doesn’t suffer understand that the symptoms are not only biological, like side effects that must wear off, but they are also difficult to “snap out off”.  Unfortunately, for the sufferer, it is not as easy as discontinuing a medication to stop the unwanted side effects. 
  
Thus, my “suffering” is a lot like clipping along and doing “ok” and then being suddenly blindsided by a cycle of unwanted “side effects” in which there is no escape.  Sounds like a personal hell, right?  It is. This is the suffering that most people (unless they experience it) do not understand, while some others do not even acknowledge. Medication and other approaches (mediation, therapy, etc.) can sometimes alleviate or decrease symptoms, but many of us suffer for years, on and off, endlessly trying to “escape” a chemical imbalance that causes the illness.  

The Stigma: 

Unfortunately, because mental illness is often misunderstood, I’ve had to “suffer” in world that stigmatizes and shames those struggling.  There are many people that question the validity of mental illness and have unfair and unrealistic expectations of those struggling. I can remember being released from my first hospital stay and friends laughing at me or telling me I just need to “snap out of it”. I even had a counselor in college who told me, I needed to “pull my boots straps up, and try harder”. Obviously, this caused me immense shame as I blamed myself when I struggled to control my moods or manage my level of anxiety. This compounded my anxiety and depression as I felt ostracized from others and would resort to “self-loathing” when my illness became episodic and I couldn’t “snap out of it”. I often blamed myself and became more alienated. I was diagnosed before the internet was in existence and couldn’t reach out to “social media” or on-line groups for support.  
  
Often people who have a mental illness feel that they must hide their struggle from the workplace, for fear of retaliation. I remember after being initially diagnosed in the early 90’s with Bipolar 1, I was told to “hide” my diagnosis from others, particularly in the workplace. This only served to ramp up my anxiety as I struggled to keep everything “sucked in” and hidden from view. I have even lost jobs and experienced discrimination in the workplace when requesting help in the form of accommodations. My struggle was often viewed as not credible and I was seen as a “troublemaker” or an “attention seeker”.
  
The stigma surrounding those struggling with a psychiatric disorder, often prevents people getting help in the workplace and seeking treatment. The effects of stigma can be devastating and can mean job losses and access to adequate care.  Many of the failures stemming from those suffering are not the fault of the individual struggling, but of the inadequate and unjust system that perpetuates stigma and negative stereotypes.  

The Shame:

The stigma can lead to a deep level of shame. Without others having the awareness and/or sensitivity of my illness, of which I felt I had to “hide”, there were times I was misunderstood. I might have been seen as haughty or short when I had to disappear quickly to manage an escalating panic attack. I may have been viewed as uninterested or unmotivated on a day when I was struggling with my depression. My symptoms were often misinterpreted as my personality, and this caused me conflicts with others. In time, I could see clearly that my illness had robbed me of my potential in the workplace, but NOT of my talent, motivation, experience, or passion. It was often how I decompensated during times of stress, due to my illness, that wrecked me. And my frantic efforts to to feign “normalcy” only exacerbated things, until I just “quit” abruptly, or began missing too much work.
 
These lived experiences of struggling, experiencing stigma, and then feeling shame, ultimately caused me to respect my illness, for what it truly is: a devastating biological illness that affects my mood and perceptions which is often visibly seen through my behaviors. I began to see the distinction between myself, when I am suffering, and myself when I am not. I started to challenge myself in the midst of my suffering to let go of the shame that I had relating to my behavior when sick.  I could see that focusing on the negative behaviors that arise during an episode, often served to keep me hooked in a cycle of shame and regret.  Instead, I decided to give the illness the respect it deserved and I spent time finding ways to aggressively fight it and keep it at bay. 
 
If you are like me, if will more than likely rear its ugly head again, but this time when it does, I have decided to forgive myself, instead of lamenting the mistakes made when chained against my will, and suffering with a serious mental illness. Now, I get busy working to “get ahead” of the next episode.  I’ve decided to be like a hunter and become skilled at tracking it down, intercepting it, hopefully before it escalates too much. And even, if I become ill, and things “get messy”, I quickly return to practicing self compassion and respecting the chronic mental illness that I live with that takes immense effort to manage effectively. 

I’ve learned through a lot of years of tears and immense pain, that I don’t have to be ashamed anymore. I also acknowledge that many people are going to misunderstand my illness and there is only so much I can do to educate and inform others. My hope is through writing I can help others better understand what it has been like struggling now for nearly 32 years with a severe and persistent mental illness. And, I am immensely proud of the courage and persistence I espouse, despite the often insurmountable odds I’ve faced living in a world that is still sometimes not accepting or sensitive to my struggle. I hope this helps others. If it does, I am even more grateful for what I’ve lived through and survived. 

Surviving Being The Scapegoat

Photo by Julia Volk on Pexels.com

Looking back at the last few years, I wonder, how I even survived it all. Watching helplessly as my family was annihilated by addiction and sociopathy while at the same time, being devalued, discarded, and invalidated by my own mother. Constantly signaling alarm, seeing the writing on the wall, and forecasting the devastation with surprising accuracy… but doing so alone and alienated. And doing so while being gaslighted, shift-blamed, stone-walled, and discredited. It has been really hard. And it has hurt me, both physically and emotionally.

The times I’ve dropped to the floor wincing in pain, sobbing loudly. Or the times, I’ve had to take a muscle relaxer or two and an Ativan to be able to breathe, because I am holding the tension and my breathe so tightly that I become fearful that I might soon find myself in the ER. Submerging my body into the hot bath water I poured with Epsom salts, trying my best to regain balance and bring myself back to baseline. This is Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). And this is what it causes for me.

I have lost my ability to work for now and am doing my best to rebound after relapsing and becoming severely depressed. I even have experienced difficultly swallowing for nearly a year (still struggle somewhat) and lost 80 pounds in a short 6 months. And the last year, as the Coronavirus raged on, so did my rage with my family as it became more evident that my sister’s wrath towards me was intentional and my Mother’s complacency more visible than ever. I was told by my sister that I was hated, no longer part of the family, and denied the joyous occasion of the birth of my great nephew. I reacted to the abuse, at times, poorly, I admit. And yet, it dawned on me this year that I was in a losing battle. Nothing I could say or do would prevent my sister’s manifesto to character smear me and destroy any familial bonds I had left. My pleas for her to get help for her addiction fell on deaf ears, while she continued to deny and lie her way through losing custody of her grandchild and him testing positive for ingesting Meth. Even my own mother lied to cover up that my great nephew, a 3 year old, tested positive for ingesting meth. These lies, among other abusive tactics made to equate my reactions to the abuse to the ACTUAL abuse that was occurring, further alienated me from my family during a time the whole world was dealing with the alienation surrounding a “global pandemic”. When commercials on TV boasted of “staying home” and how family was so important, mine was becoming blown apart at the seems.

There were weeks that I was wrapped up, consumed, and lost in the grief of losing an entire family, knowing instinctively, and through years of observation, that it wasn’t just an addiction, but sociopathy that wreaked havoc on every member of my family. And while doing so, my Mom turned a blind eye to the pain and devastation that kept mounting for all of us. My step-Dad was never present, nor was he a part of any endeavor to protect us. And so, now what is left, is an epic mess of a broken and disordered family system that is too fractured to reconcile. It would take a miracle of sorts to fix what has been broken. Two family members are now severely mentally disabled due to the drug use and the deep neglect and enabling they endured when they took the same road as their mother. One is quickly speeding towards disability as we speak. Another has lost custody of her two children and is in rehab, but this situation remains tenuous and fragile, especially if she goes back to the same environment where she was using. And as for me, there does come a point where you have to walk away and say ENOUGH is ENOUGH. I do realize that so much of the devastation is being perpetuated by historical cycles of abuse and the negative coping mechanisms resulting from having endured it. My mother, sister, and step-father all have their own personal struggles and I do feel they often are completely unaware and divorced from their own negative ways of coping that are hurtful to me. Some of what they do that is hurtful is not intentional, but it does not dismiss the complacency that often follows and the lack of action that occurs after an apology. My attempts to have equal power and influence in the family, whereby my needs are met, are often ignored and not acted on and it just ends up a very negative and damaging cycle. When I attempt to get my needs met with my sister, it is often met with disdain and abuse and I am belittled and quickly discarded and ignored.

I deserve a safe, loving, kind family. One that cares to call and check in on me and ask about my life.

And so, I am writing this today as I wish to again ACCEPT the devastation and MOVE FORWARD. Writing about the pain might help others reading know that they are not alone. Some pain, especially involving “family hurts”, truly runs deep.

Some days, I go back and massage the hurts and again, feel the depth of what I lost. I still feel in many ways, perhaps, at least with my sister, that I haven’t had much of an amenable, reciprocal relationship for decades now. Putting the words down on paper, visibly, helps to provide the distance needed to heal.

It allows me to validate my own inner experience while simultaneously having hope that someone out there is reading this and relating and feels less lonely in their struggle.

It is hard sometimes. But, we survive the hard days when accepting the truth. I am surviving them by also expressing my truth. I do so, anymore, unapologetically. I do so now without self-loathing. In time, I will be past the pain and will be in a different spot altogether. Until then, this is how I am moving forward and surviving the loss.

My life has the potential to be peaceful and fulfilling. I am slowly releasing the grip history has had on me. I am writing my own script and practicing compassion and forgiveness.

And I am releasing and distancing from any and all expectations I have from my “family”.

I realize every individual in my family has their own struggle, their own pain, and their own ways of coping…. be it positive or negative. I will not return to the negative ways of coping. There is a new dawn and I will not fear flying solo when I’ve learned over time that I have already been doing so… just with so much weight on my wings.

I am OK and I am ENOUGH.

In ways this global pandemic has overshadowed and paralleled my own personal struggles and fears. It has forced me to look inward, while at the same time, providing a bird’s eye view of both the tragedy and miracle of life. It has given me pause to appreciate what I have taken for granted, while affording the time to accept “what is” and work to create the space and distance needed to provide peace.

I feel we are living in extraordinarily spiritual times. And my road has lead me down a path of solitude for now. I may get a little lost at times, but I am on the path towards forgiveness and compassion.

I wish you light along your journey.

Cultivating Home

I HOPE YOU KNOW HOW LOVED U ARE.

The words above, which were “stamped” on a sidewalk in the Miracle Mile District of Los Angeles where I live, captured my attention and imagination enough for me to stop for a moment and take a photograph. Although I have no idea who placed them there, the words resonated with me, stirring a sense of comfort and peace. While at the same time, admittedly, I had to acknowledge that I wasn’t feeling all that “loved” lately. Fights with my family and the culture of hate on social media, had left me, at times, feeling “less than worthy”, and often disillusioned. I felt isolated and alone, a lot.

And then, suddenly, out of the depth of despair and years of suffering, I was granted a miracle of sorts. A true gift of light and hope that was as unexpected, as it was simple and serene. It was if all the years of hard work of separation, self-reflection, and creating boundaries, had finally “paid off”. I had proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I loved myself. And yet, in realizing this victory, I quickly gained insight and awareness into a much larger and all-encompassing love. I feel I have reached another summit, and although I feel free from what caged me, I feel a deeper sense of responsibility to embody the essence of what I had missed in my life.

A seed was planted within my daily practice of meditation that has shifted my perspective and purpose. Because my past trauma had left me feeling fearful and unsafe, I set out to cultivate a sense of “home” within myself. So much of my time in the past was spent in desperate efforts to fill the a painful void that only perpetuated the cycle of feeling devalued, unseen, and unsafe. I relentlessly pursued the elusive high that was always fleeting and unattainable. I found this temporary pulse of life in romantic interests and in gambling, but both of these often left me feeling more empty and disillusioned in the end. Over time, it became evident that the old and ineffective ways of coping had only served to make me a servant of suffering.

It took time to unravel the jumbled up and knotted yarn of my life. In the beginning, the prospect of sorting out what my mine to hold and what was mine to “let go” seemed overwhelming and daunting. I would start and stop this process many times over, sometimes wondering if I made any progress at all. The messy ball of yarn, heaped on the floor, sat untouched, for months at a time, especially when preoccupation took the place of processing pain. Inevitably, however, my suffering always lead me back to unraveling a few more knots. As time passed, I grew more compassionate and patient with myself. Healing became a “way of life” and my expectation to reach a destination became less of the focus. The knots became easier to untangle when I was less frustrated with myself and when I decided to no longer judge the process or the duration of it. I became more gentle with myself and mindful of the emotional weight lifted when I accepted that I was alone, but was “ok”.

It was during these times alone with myself, meditating, that I discovered my purest voice. There was a growing presence within me that was becoming louder and more confident. I felt on an instinctual level that if I sat long enough in the stillness, I would know how to heal myself. I was using a meditation app on my phone and would listen to music that I found not only soothing, but spiritual. It was in these times when I was most alone, that I felt most connected. I began to chant phrases that ultimately were transformative. I did so on an instinctual level as doing so just made sense to me at the time.

Some of the phrases I chanted were as follows:

I am peace.

I am light.

I am forgiveness.

I am joy.

I am love.

I am resiliency.

I am relaxation.

I am stillness.

In chanting these simple statements, a sense of serenity flooded me. Not only did I feel “connected”, I felt that I could more readily embody each “state”. Different words had their own effect and yet each one felt universal and brought me a sense of community and acceptance. By chanting these simple statements, my perspective shifted and I began to soften and trust myself and the universe a bit more. It was nearly like I was “bending towards the sunshine” and separating from that which had “caged” my little song bird, rendering her silent all these years. The wall of brick and mortar began to crumble and light was flooding in, bringing warmth. I don’t feel this would have occurred had I not set stronger boundaries to facilitate the safe space that I was cultivating for myself.

I had spent years defining parameters and doing the hard work of separating myself from people and situations that were unhealthy. In the beginning, like the knotted up yarn, this seemed nearly futile, I gave up a lot. I wanted immediate gratification and was often impatient and desperate, willing to accept the crumbs, instead of the cake. I didn’t believe I was worthy and I accepted too much and demanded very little. And so, I grew bitter at what life had handed me.

Then there were the years I spent angry and raging, demanding the love I felt I deserved from others in my life: those who had abandoned me or perhaps, looking back now, where never truly there to begin with. These were the hardest years of my life. I lost a person whom I called “the love of my life”. I separated from my family, all who were struggling in their own ways and not capable of compromise. I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to be visible to those I loved, but it was to no avail. It had become so unhealthy for me that I knew I had to “let go”, separate, and recreate myself in a new space. In many ways, I felt I had lost “home”. The process of separating was extremely difficult and exhausting. Partially, because I kept “going back”, dragging my feet, and putting off the inevitable.

And now, after years of persistence and the commitment to myself to “heal”, I nearly feel like I have went through a true metamorphosis. Much of the weight I was carrying has been released. The space I am cultivating around me is safe and peaceful, it feels like “home”. My daily meditations often come with the gifts of hearing more of the music and feeling more connected to others. There appears to be an endless amount of self love and connection to others when awake in the present moment. My mind is less preoccupied with the unattainable goal of “changing others” and “winning their acceptance” and more focused on cultivating a sense of “home” within myself and around me. And oddly enough, even with the isolation of the coronavirus, I am participating more in support groups and feeling more connected to my environment and to myself. Music and meditation brings me peace and “company” as I can often “pick up” separate instruments and voices within the songs and it makes me feel connected and grounded to others. I have begun to truly appreciate the human contribution of “art” and “comfort” that exists in my life and all around me as my mind is less preoccupied on the “hopeless” and more awakened to the “hopeful”.

And to this I am grateful.

Life isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. And there are still times I slip, returning briefly to the suffering. I am, however, more quick to address the pain, sit with it and process it, instead of being paralyzed or consumed by it. I also am a lot more patient with myself when this occurs.

The most surprising revelation I’ve had during the process of healing is how we truly are not “alone”. Even if some of us choose spending more time with ourselves, pets, nature, etc. than others, one only has to look around or play some music to be filled with all the gifts and comforts that are created by humanity. I have found a lot of peace from living in the moment, with eyes and ears open, enjoying the beauty in life that surrounds me. It is a true gift. Love and light on your journey towards wholeness!

Black Lives Matter: What About Me?… What about “WE”?

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As you may have already surmised, or have heard people say: “We are living amid the perfect storm”.

We have reached the boiling point in history where science and technology has gifted humanity with a tool that has the ability to capture and expose injustice in concrete and compelling ways. And now more than ever before, we have the capacity to quickly share and disseminate this information around the globe. It took less than a week for the brutal murder of George Floyd to be shared and seen by much of the global community. And rightfully so, the graphic scenes of his death traumatized many of us. It has awakened our collective conscious and moved us into the streets, demanding reform and justice, chanting his last, desperate words: “I can’t breathe”.

Ironically, we took to the streets in the midst of a global pandemic, where a deadly respiratory virus has already stolen the breathe from thousands, killing black and brown people in disproportionate numbers.

The storm has been rolling in for some time now, with each layer of loss and oppression, adding to the heaviness of the air.

“I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe”.

As people crowd the streets in protest to police brutality, people are crowding emergency rooms across the globe, gasping in fear and desperation uttering the words: “I can’t breathe”. “I can’t breathe”. Medics and nurses are risking their lives to provide care for those struggling by using aggressive means to open up the airways, even resorting to intubation as a desperate measure to preserve life. It is in these dark times where we have suddenly realized our vulnerability and mortality. The murder of George Floyd amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic seems exceptionally cruel and brutal, piercing the heart that beats within us, causing us to wince in pain and catch our breathe. And he  is only one of many in the black community that have been victims of police brutality.

As Covid-19 spreads through black and brown communities causing death and despair, the systemic oppression of minority communities in America has been further exposed. Not to mention that many minorities hold jobs labeled as “essential”, placing them at greater risks of contracting the virus. The economic burden felt from the “safer at home” orders has impacted all of us, but those already struggling with poverty and limited opportunities were hit the hardest.

America was just picking itself off the ground after having had the wind knocked out of us by the Coronavirus, when the death of George Floyd made its way into our collective conscious. Our nation was traumatized by the images of a cop kneeling on the neck of a black man in broad daylight, watching helplessly, as the life drained out of him, as he pleaded for his life. The recent deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery have compounded the pain of a nation already grieving the loss of many to the deadly virus, Covid-19.

And it is an election year. The stakes have never been so high. Rhetoric on both sides is frenzied and forceful, each side taking the position that losing the election will lead to the loss of our freedom, core values, and perhaps even, the very identity of our country. The swords have been drawn and there is immense tension and angst among each other as we prepare for “battle”. There is a real and present danger that the election may be compromised whereby the results are contested. The debate over mail-in ballots and their legitimacy is setting the stage for civil unrest. And certain states, like Georgia, have already experienced problematic voting procedures that are creating long lines and suppressing the vote. There is an unsettling uncertainty building where people feel they may have to risk their life and health in order to cast their vote during a time when both coronavirus and the flu are escalating.

The atmospheric pressure is heavy. The emotion seen and felt in the eyes of those wearing make shift masks and bandanas who are protesting in the streets, is palpable. We are weary, and yet many are resolved to “fight”. This moment, albeit fraught with tension and instability, is pregnant with hope and possibility. Perhaps, we are truly witnessing the dawn of a new age. History will remind us that freedom has always come not only with a cost, but with a deep sense of responsibility and commitment. America is faced with the opportunity to reawaken with the resolve to commit itself again to the lofty ideals of equality, justice, freedom, and opportunity for ALL.

I’ve heard from many who feel abandoned and “left out” during this pivotal time. Some insisting the “All Lives Matter” . Many who are unwilling to yield a space in their heart for the reconciliation and restoration for a community of people who have been oppressed by a system that enslaved them years ago. Some have become defensive, doubling down, and declaring that they were never part of the system that harmed black people. That they are “too young” and that “happened so very long ago”. Many more take their logic a few steps further, citing their own disadvantages and struggles. Some are completely unaware of the privilege that their white skin affords. They are so sheltered from the daily reality of those suffering that they invalidate their struggle through gaslighting them, adding yet another insidious layer to the abuses they’ve already endured.

There are people who are incapable of looking past their own experiences in an objective way, examining how their own upbringing and place in society shaped their perceptions and daily reality. Perhaps they examine their life in as so far as acknowledging how their own life was molded by the choices and investment or “lack there of” that their parents executed in their life growing up. Taking it a step further, some may recognize the many other variables that have shaped their identity and values. These often include the interplay between family and society through organized endeavors such as church, school, and recreation. As a white kid, growing up in rural America, I initially saw the cops as the “good guys” and “heroes”. As children, our views are often relatively simplistic. If we are lucky, we are born into a family that invests in our development and is even excited about our potential in the world. One of the questions adults always ask children is: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. We begin instilling an individual’s confidence early on, not only through supporting and fostering their dreams, but also through our own actions and by example. Kids listen, but they learn by absorbing what we do and how we carry ourselves. These seeds planted or sewn early on make up for so much of how we perceive and “judge” the world. The layers upon layers of our perceived reality are reinforced by our own actions and often justify the lens we see the world through. But, it truly is only one lens and one world. One that was constructed by the daily reception of “noise” and clamor that was filtered through our senses and interpreted through a filter of established values and beliefs. Our reality is not collective, it is specific and it is actually extremely limited. We know very little in the end.

I am quick to acknowledge my white privilege and my inadequate knowledge of the various issues that black people face in our country and in the world. In my own struggle  with a mental illness and relative poverty, I “tapped out” for over a decade, self-isolating and stagnating. Suffering early on in childhood as a result of being molested by my neighbor at age 4, my sense of safety was diminished. The fact that the world was a dangerous place was further reinforced by later living with a step-father who was abusive and intimidating. Much of my childhood was spent trying to navigate a world where I felt threatened and unsafe. I was often preoccupied with thoughts of impending doom and death and some of my development was arrested as a result.

Not that I am comparing my reality to what black people have endured living in this country. But, I do know how it feels to spend time and energy trying to keep myself “safe”. It takes a lot of energy and time and it can consume and cloud your thought processes. For these reasons, I initially fell behind in school. I was often restless and had difficulty concentrating. Reading, for me, was a real chore. I had boundless and anxious energy and was often “poked fun” of by teachers and even set apart and punished in the classroom openly for having these issues. I always felt different from the others in my class.

I recall a time when I was six where a child got injured on the playground and was bleeding. It terrified me. While all the other kids followed the teacher who had scooped up the child, curious of the injury, I instead ran to the nearby bushes, knelt, and prayed to the dear Lord above to “save him”. I was even so shaken by this, that the next day I stayed home from school, saying I was “sick” with a tummy ache. I would pray every time I heard an ambulance as it paralyzed me with fear and dread. I never felt “safe” or “secure” and I know how this impacted my reality growing up. I have spent time and energy doing my best to heal from a reality that has overshadowed my entire existence. Had I felt safe earlier on, what would have been my true potential? I’ll never know. We only get one life, one reality, and one shot. So many factors, like not feeling safe, can hijack your true potential.

This is why I feel it is so very important to have the conversation our nation and world is having today regarding policing. Based on clear and compelling evidence in both research and anecdotal claims, now supported by a multitude of on-line videos, it is fairly safe to conclude that many people, particularly in black and brown communities do not feel safe. And safety is a basic need, at the bottom of “Maslow’s Hierarchy” pyramid right above the physiological needs of: “air, water, food, shelter, clothing, reproduction”. Maslow defined safety needs in his pyramid as: “personal security, employment, resources, health, and property”. Given the reality that blacks were enslaved and treated in inhumane ways for centuries, one can easily surmise the amount of time needed to address the lack of certain “basic needs”. And even when freedom was granted, there were years of systemic racism prevalent in laws and our culture that made access to their “basic needs” difficult, if not, even impossible for some. I am, embarrassed, to admit that I lack a lot of foundational knowledge of their struggles and am still learning as the history that I was taught in the 80’s as a kid, “glossed” over their struggle… another way to “gaslight” and distort the truth.

This brings me to the point where many white people or members of other minority groups who have struggled in America, ask the question: “Well, What about Me?”. Don’t “ALL lives matter?” I have seen examples of this many times over the past month. Many have suffered in America due to the system falling short to address issues of: income inequality, poverty, lack of access to healthcare, an addiction epidemic, mental health disparities, etc. The list virtually goes on and on. Your struggle is not invalidated or diminished by the movement that, at first glance (for some), seems to have just erupted recently, spilling into the streets, gaining world-wide attention and momentum. The fight against systemic racism has been a long, tumultuous road where many have committed their life and legacy to ending the hate embedded in the structures of American Society. The Black Lives Matter movement represents seven long years of work and protests to bring the issues of racism and police brutality to America’s collective conscious. This took time, dedication, and perseverance.

“In the summer of 2013, after George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the movement began with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. The movement was co-founded by three black community organizers: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi”.   

The Black Lives Matter Movement should not be seen as a “threat” or a lack of “inclusivity”. The injustices and oppression that systemic racism has caused has traumatized a community of individuals for centuries who have suffered long enough. Those of us struggling due to certain failings of the system should be humbled and inspired by the persistence, tenacity, and grit of those still fighting for equality. This movement has been not only humbling for me, but incredibly empowering and awe-inspiring. Let it sink in that despite centuries of slavery and decades of discrimination that has impacted their ability to feel “safe” and valued in society, that these people never gave up. And not only that, what is even more humbling is that the vast majority are reaching out in love and peace, asking for what they have been denied of for so long. I keep hear them saying: “We are tired. We have had ENOUGH, When will it change?”. I hear their pleas for reform and the desperation in their voices and my eyes begin to well up. It touches a place deep inside of me and my pain too, is also released. I could say, “What about me? What about my struggles?”. But, the larger question is what about “WE?”. It will take more of that mentality to honor their struggle and to reconcile the deep injustices that has, for years, harmed these people. In order to end racism WE have to join in the fight and stand with them in solidarity for a brighter future. Doing so, only empowers and inspires us to continue working to eliminate injustice of all forms. This community has struggled ENOUGH. Their cries have resonated within me and have humbled me, inspiring me to re-examine my approach and perception towards my own struggle. I’ve taken a “back seat”. I’m listening and I am learning. And I am eternally grateful for the immense hope and power that is present in this unprecedented time.

It is time to drop the “ME” and adopt the “WE” mentality. Because together WE struggle, together WE heal, and together WE change the world.

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